Writers and Marketing – What Makes Sense?

paris clockA couple of weeks ago, I shared a tally and breakdown of the average number of hours I spend each week on non-writing, marketing-related activities. Though my estimates were rough, the bottom like was that I typically spend between six and eleven hours each week on tasks that range from writing blog posts to posting on social media to meet-and-greets with potential clients.

That’s a lot of hours.

At least, it is in my world.

While I was writing that post (and suddenly realizing just how many hours I actually dedicate to these various pursuits), I began to question what – if anything – I was gaining as a return on the investment of my precious time. After all, time is the most valuable commodity for any writer. It is not something to be squandered. I have often lamented how little time I have to write, and yet here I discover that I have this cache of more than a full day’s worth of time hidden in plain sight, tucked away in a few minutes here and an hour or two there.

It was a sobering realization.

I couldn’t help wondering what I might accomplish if I spent those hours working on my writing. What if I took an entire day each week to focus 100% on my fiction projects?

The prospect made me take a closer look at the value of my marketing activities. Here (so far) is my assessment:

Reading and Retweeting Blogs: While I do not see a lot of interaction with my tweets, I do feel I get a lot of value out of reading the blogs. Though I may not put what I learn into action immediately, it’s important to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the publishing world. I also enjoy the aspect of discovery that is such a big part of reading blogs. I have unearthed  new authors, books, resources, and other valuable references through my blog reading. I do, however, think that there is some dead weight in my blog reader.

Next Actions: I am going to give my Feedly lists a thorough once over and unsubscribe from any blogs that aren’t delivering stellar content. I’m also going to investigate automated ways of finding new content outside my usual stomping grounds by setting up search alerts and other tools that will bring the great content to me instead of me having to spend so much time filtering through everything to find the good bits.

Writing My Bi-Weekly Column: This isn’t a paid gig, but (as I said in my original post) it is a great creative exercise and a deadline that forces me to get the writing done. In addition, I have some fuzzy  plans to eventually self-publish a collection of these essays in a calendar or day book format.

Next Actions: To get the most out of this activity, I’m going to get a bit more focused and intentional about my essay topics and formats. I’m going to think about each piece as part of an eventual whole so that I can make strides toward building a body of work that will make sense as a collection.

Blogging Here at Live to Write – Write to Live: Again, not a paid gig, BUT I get so much in return for the time I spend here. For one thing, the posts are yet another deadline that keep me writing on a regular basis. In addition, you guys (our readers!) are so supportive and provide so much inspiration. And, finally, I love publicly exploring my relationship with writing and the writing life.

Next Actions: While I love simply publishing posts to the blog, I am also looking to find other ways to connect with readers. Email is an often overlooked but powerful tool, so an email newsletter may be in the mix soon. (Stay posted!)

Commenting on Blog Posts: Last year, a number of top-name blogs removed comments from their blogs all together because it was becoming too much of a burden to respond and they weren’t seeing any benefits from that effort. I hope I never reach that point. Engaging readers in conversation is valuable to me not only in terms of strengthening relationships, but also in terms of inspiration. The comments you guys leave are full of great insights, ideas, and questions. Great stuff!

Next Actions: Not much to change here except that I hope to be able to respond to comments in a more timely manner.

Business Networking/Prospecting: Though these activities (including basic social media participation and networking, coffee dates, etc.) can take up a lot of time, when I looked hard at the source of my current revenue, I could trace almost every dollar back to an interaction that falls into this category. (No, I’m not kidding.) As a freelance writer, my network is an important asset to my business. Each person I meet, work with, and connect with on social media is a potential link to my next gig. Does it take time to create and nurture these relationships? Yes. Is it worth it? Hell, yes.

Next Actions: I do think there is some room for improvement in this category, namely I’d like to be more organized and intentional in my approach to networking. To do that, I need to gain some additional clarity about exactly what kind of work I hope to do more of, and then focus my efforts around the people and organizations who can help me achieve those goals.

Future “Vision” Planning: As I mentioned in that first post, I don’t do nearly enough of this, and it handicaps me in terms of gaining that all important clarity that I wrote about in last Saturday’s weekend edition.

Next Actions: I will be setting aside some time (maybe a half day each month) to do nothing but look at where I am, get clear about where I want to be, and work on a plan that will get me from Point A to Point B.

Writers are plagued by the constant guilt that assaults us whenever we’re not writing. Sometimes, all this marketing stuff can feel like nothing more than procrastination, one more thing to keep us away from our Real Work. But, it’s important to remember that in the same way developing our writing craft takes consistent practice over time, building our marketing muscles also requires a dedicated effort.

Ultimately, you need to find a viable balance between creating your work and marketing your work. The two activities may seem to exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, but in truth they are two sides of the same coin. (Apologies for the mixed metaphor.) When you finally have work that you want to share with the world, you will be much better positioned to do so if you have been engaging in at least some basic marketing activities along the way. Audiences and support networks are not built overnight. Ever.

The key to ensuring the highest level of productivity (and your sanity) is to focus your efforts, streamline your processes, and check in once in a while to make sure that the marketing activities you started doing a year ago (or last month, or yesterday) are still working for you today. It’s all about experimentation and being able to adapt as your situation and environment change.

What’s your experience with marketing yourself and your writing? Have you found certain things that work better than others? Have you ever gotten stuck in a rut? What do you discover when you think about your marketing  and networking activities in terms of the value they deliver?

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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39 thoughts on “Writers and Marketing – What Makes Sense?

  1. I am trying to get a book completed and I believe I have sidetracked myself by participating in #blogging101 and #photo101 because of my committed time. Why is this a writing block to finishing a goal?

    • I’m not intimately familiar with #blogging101 or #photo101. Can you explain more about what’s involved and why you’re participating?

  2. Thanks for your insight, Jamie. Two of my favorite bloggers who write about the business of writing, Carol Tice and Linda Formachelli, contend that marketing your work is as important as writing itself. I agree that networking is key. ALL of my paying work has come from referrals via current clients or one-on-one meetings. Social media is great but meeting people still helps seal the deal!

    • Yes, it’s painful but true – marketing is just as important as creating. They are the yin and yang of professional writing.

      And I agree about the power of meeting in person. I have been making a conscious effort to do more of that this year. It can make a big difference in terms of the depth of connection, and it can also be pretty fun!

  3. What you’re writing about here is how you spend your time and the payback you get. You’ve done a good job of parsing it. It’s something that as a professional writer for more than 30 years I do automatically. Because writing is what I do for a living, my default is always to do first what makes me money. It may sound crass to some but that’s the reality of it.

    • I know how you feel, Larry. I’ve only been doing this for about eight years, but I definitely feel that pull to attend first to the thing that will put money in my pocket. However, there is something to be said for also being proactive and consistent about doing the things that may not have an immediate return, but which – over the long haul – will pay off in spades. It comes back to the old Franklin Covey framework about not only taking care of what’s “urgent,” but also making time for what’s “important.” Too often what’s important (building a body of work, building a strong marketing platform, increasing your audience, etc.) gets pushed to the bottom of the list while what’s urgent (making the deadline on your most recent assignment, for instance) takes top priority. The trouble is, if we are always focusing only on what’s urgent (and, I’m not suggesting you do this … just getting up on my soapbox for a minute), we end up trapped in a hand-to-mouth cycle. We need to do the foundational work and forward planning in order to build the life we imagine for ourselves. (stepping down off soapbox now)

      Thanks for inspiring a bit of a mini rant! (And, kudos to you for doing the pro writer thing for more than 30 years. Perhaps I could persuade you to share some of your wisdom in a guest post?) 🙂

  4. Amazing Post! I’ve always found it difficult to balance my marketing time and my writing time, but now I think if I come up with a clear plan of what I want to do (as you have done here), then that’ll make things significantly easier. Thanks so much!

    • Being intentional about marketing activities is key to being productive with them. It’s tough if you’re not well versed in marketing because then we tend to fall into the trap of Do All The Things. But … if we can get clear and focused about what makes the most sense, life suddenly becomes a whole hell of a lot easier! 🙂

      Tks for coming by!

  5. I agree between discerning what’s urgent and what’s important. I’m a bit of Stephen Covey fan myself. That’s why I do money projects that bring in dough now, when the client wants it and longer term projects, that bring in money in the future by getting those rolling now. I’ve found that the biggest failure among professional writers is not their talent, skills, work ethics or even time management – it’s their money management. Yeah, just like any small business. It’s about money management.

    • Ooh – now there’s a topic, and one that’s been on my mind lately. Managing life against the ups and downs of freelance cash flow can definitely be challenging … especially when you are the sole breadwinner in the house.

      Friends just recommended a software called You Need a Budget as a good way for folks who are new to budgeting and saving to get a handle on where their money goes. I downloaded the free trial, but haven’t (yet) gotten around to setting it up. On my radar, though.

      So true that being a freelance writer IS a small business, and it needs to be treated that way. TKS for adding your perspective!

  6. This is such a great piece and I can totally relate to it. I used to constantly get assaulted by guilt for letting time escape me, feeling like I had all day and then never getting anything done. It’s a writer’s and parent’s nightmare. But I did an activity similar to your where I inventoried my time…eye opening indeed! I think every bid should do that at least a couple times a year just so they can stay on their path. And for what it’s worth I know there are a few writers that contribute to this site, but your posts seem to really hit home for me. I really enjoy your essays and hope you know that your ripples in the water are making an impact.

    • Thank you so much for such kind words. It is a wonderful thing for any writer to hear that their words are connecting. I really appreciate that.

      I know all about the guilt. (That’s another whole post, isn’t it?) But, if we take a more accurate look at our days (like you did) it often turns out that we’re beating ourselves up for no good reason.

      I worked briefly with a creative/finance coach who called me out on the fact that I constantly said I had to “get off my ass” and do such-and-such. She reminded me that I am most definitely not sitting around eating bon-bons and that it wasn’t doing any good to make myself feel bad about being lazy when it wasn’t even true. It was a good reality check.

      Thanks for coming by & chiming in. And thanks for reminding me about the ripples. : )

  7. Jamie – Just a quick shout out for YNAB (You Need a Budget) since you mentioned it in one of the follow up comments. I definitely recommend it – it’s very reasonably priced and it does help you set your budgets and goals for the future, rather than seeing what’s already happened. I use it for my personal finances, but I’ve heard that it’s helpful in the same way for small businesses. (And no, I don’t get any kickback for this, lol – just a satisfied customer 🙂 )
    Thanks so much for your thought-provoking post.

    • Thanks, Heather. I’m thrilled to hear from a YNAB fan. 🙂
      I will be using it for personal finances only, and I’m really looking forward to getting a clear picture of my expenses and spending. I’m no big spender or shopping addict, but I KNOW there are some places where I can make better choices about my money.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for coming by!

  8. What I loved about this is not only that you take the “problem” and analyze it, but also give us some solid reasons to do it for ourselves. And sharing your “Next Action” list makes me realize that there are really simple and effective ways to improve my efficiency, as well as the results of my labor — so thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Awww … thanks! 🙂
      This really was a helpful exercise for me, too; and I’m happy I could share it.

      Good luck with your efficiency and here’s to harvesting the fruits of our labors!

    • We can usually improve a thing if we just take a moment to stop and think about it, really think about it. I’ll be exploring this more myself. Good luck as you chew on it as well! 😉

    • It can definitely feel that way. But, what if your blogs were somehow fuel for your writing? What if they were so aligned with your writing that they could help you with your marketing and also with your story development? I’m not saying I have an easy answer that provides such a solution, but it’s worth thinking about. 😉

      Thanks for coming by.

      • They are related to the novels I’ve written and sometimes they do fuel memories I’d forgotten. I just have to live with the time factor while the bonus is connecting to people who have similar interests in the locations I blog about.

  9. Thanks so much for this great insight. I’ve been writing for years but have only recently begun to think seriously about marketing myself and my books. It is a daunting, time-consuming process but already, in my own (very!) small way, I am starting to see it working. I’m not making money yet but I am making some connections and that has to be a first important step. Your post provides a really useful framework to ensure I’m making the best use of my time (which always feels in short supply!). Thanks a million for your help. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Susie. I’m so glad you found it useful. And, congrats on beginning to think seriously about marketing yourself and your books. That’s a great step in the right direction.

      Good luck & thanks for coming by! 🙂

  10. I do not actually know anything about marketing. I am still so new to this, and all I want is for my people to give me some real feedback. I spend a little time on my FB for the blog (not nearly enough), and I am just learning more about how to link all these social media sites together. I know, I know…. I should have a better grip on this, but- I don’t. I am not even sure if I am writing anything worth writing. sigh. I am really enjoying reading you though.

  11. Ladyquirky I am in the same boat so I know how you feel. I am very new to this too and having recently started my first fiction novel I am trying to stay focussed on the writing whilst also using social media and blog posts to get word out there that my book is on the way. I have read various articles from authors saying how important it is to get the social media ball rolling and a certain amount of marketing in place before the book is finished. Jamie would you agree with this? Any tips you can give would be a huge help! Thanks Mark

  12. Pingback: Weekend Edition – A Writers’ Circle Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | Live to Write - Write to Live

  13. Excellent post. I can identify with much of what you said. Ask any self pubbed author these days and we seem to all have the same concerns with splitting our time between writing and everything else that comes with publishing. And I agree about blog comments. I always say if others take the time to read and comment on our work, it’s respectful to reply and it creates good rapports.

  14. Pingback: Guest Post: WHAT I’M LEARNING ABOUT WRITING | Funhouse

  15. I can totally relate. Now that my first full-length novel is out I’ve found I’m on social media and blogging more than I’ve had time to work on my other novels, so after reading and talking with other authors I’ve decided to make some changes too, that involves more writing time, less blogging, less social media, but still enough interaction along with a monthly newsletter to stay connected. We’ll see how it goes and adjust as needed to find what works.

  16. Pingback: How Much Time Should Writers Spend Writing vs. Marketing? | Live to Write – Write to Live

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